In going back to the original material for their remake (or rather, retelling of “True Grit”, the Coen Brothers’ use the base material with their own intention of intended mistaken wantonness. For this reason, it plays much more light than one would think, especially for a picture made originally by the Duke. Much of this has to do with the casting of Jeff Bridges as the titular character. Bridges plays the man with such a variant detachment before snapping back to a focused pinpoint when battle comes into play that you realize the grand modulation he is able to perceive.
Granted when it comes to his characters, most people mount a perception of Jeff with “The Dude” from “The Big Lebowski” which still remains his signature character. There tends to be a ghost of that character however it may be in every single performance of his since then. While the eyepatch and the drawl here is a much more deliberate decision, his performance in “Tron: Legacy” by comparison points to more elevated Zen mentality. The joy of the performance here is watching Bridges as Cogburn tell stories and drawl on about past adventures while his employer, a young 14-year-old girl looking for her daddy’s killer, watches with an almost disdainful but respectful perception. Hailee Steinfeld as the young girl Mattie has her work cut out for her going up against not just one but three Hollywood heavyweights (mostly in one-on-one scenes…and each with a different dynamic). Her character at times is the hardest to maintain and her acting may seem a little stilted but the role and its dialogue require it.
Matt Damon plays the Texas lawman LaBoeuf who tags along with Bridges’ Marshall to get his part of the reward money for finding the killer of Mattie’s father. Damon plays the man with a ridiculous (and on-purpose) mustache with a sense of the clod but then modulates it back at times to a man of soul. This is the unmistaken craft of the Coens at play. While the film is more an entertainment yarn than Oscar bait by far, its ability to show the depth of these characters, even when they are being played to the point of caricature creates a seemingly dystopian and modern view of their world and ours.
Josh Brolin plays the target character Tom Chaney and imbues him, like Damon and Bridges before him, with an almost tangible mask hiding behind accents, dirt and altered movement, making him at times unrecognizable in relation to other people he has played as well as himself. The resolution of film in tandem is in keeping in time with the book and the narrative despite itself is fairly straight-forward. It is the characters that make it pop.
The inclusion of a medicine man wearing a bear skin is one of the utter highlights of the movie, not because it has story persistence but for the fact that it is so eccentric. It almost seems as if the lone biker from “Raising Arizona” had returned and assumed the role of the King in “Hamlet”. “True Grit” is undeniable fodder in a grand tradition, adequate and as vivid as any other in the Coens arsenal. Out of 5, I give it a 3.
As a reference of modern society, the Old West pervades the truer nature of American colonialism in a subsequently rawer form. While the nature of Clint Eastwood’s spaghetti westerns were more in the style of a mercenary texture where life revolves not around the law but at times in notions of vigilante justice, John Wayne’s ideals by comparison rested more in the texture of good ol’ boy Americana. Interestingly enough with the release of the Coen Brothers’ adaptation of the original book of “True Grit”, the comparison to this late 60s movie of the same name invariably comes into play. As the film which won him the Oscar for Best Actor, the key to Wayne here is him letting down his guard a little in front of the more progressive persuasion of Kim Darby as Mattie Ross. The wit of both fairly sharp using the inevitabilities of Wayne’s intention.
The inclusion within the cast of Dennis Hopper as a man who meets his end inside a shack and Robert Duvall as the murderous but intelligent Pepper gives the ideals of the movie credence before its time. Hopper’s “Easy Rider” was only a few months away while Duvall would make his entrance in “The Godfather” a few years later. The transfer on BD shows the inherent blues and barren tundra in the area around Ridgeway, Colorado where the film was shot (even though at first glance in the beginning of the film, certain town scenes can be mistaken for the Warner Ranch in Burbank). The use of day for night in a less-than-stellar fashion is glaringly obvious except for one small scene where Wayne’s Cogburn relates his road to bounty hunter of sorts (albeit one with a badge). The commentary by Western enthusiasts including Jeb & J. Stuart Rosebrook is little more than candy filling addressing the vernacular of the times while the most revealing shooting secrets they relate is that Kim Darby was deathly afraid of horses and was having family trouble so she had a hard time remembering her lines. Granted most of the people involved with the picture are not present in Hollywood anymore but even a perception by Duvall would be undeniably prudent.
Other small featurette extras include some parts of the same whole with “True Writing” talking about the adaptation which was written by Marguerite Roberts who earlier had been targeted by the McCarthy hearings. “Working With The Duke” reflects the more heroic textures of the man when the reality of his work style and intent of his health on this particular picture would have been much more telling. “Aspen Gold: The Locations Of True Grit” revels with character the textures of the land which makes the journey an integral part of the story. “The Law & The Lawless” like the writing segment before reflects the archetypal progression of the tide while still maintaining a certain code shared by these outlaws. “True Grit” is a product of its time but undeniably rooted in classic storytelling with true-to-vernacular dialogue. Out of 5, I give the BD a 2 1/2.